A Church of Passion and Hope
The Formation of An Ecclesial Disposition from Ignatius Loyola to Pope Francis and the New Evangelization
A Church of Passion and Hope is a puzzling book. The avowed purpose is simple: an examination of the “ecclesial disposition of Ignatius [of Loyola].” In “ecclesial disposition” author Gill K. Goulding is very specific: the few pages in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius focused on “Rules for Thinking with the Church.” Here Ignatius, rather predictably, urges obedience to the teachings of the church along with more pedestrian advise such as maintain a regular schedule of confessions and venerate the saints. Here too, is caution about Lutherans and the doctrine of Predestination. And finally, is the famous statement, beloved of anti-Jesuit polemicists from the sixteenth century on: “What seems to me white, I will believe to be black if the hierarchical Church thus determines it.” John O’Malley in his standard history of The First Jesuits notes that the “Rules for Thinking with the Church” (Harvard University Press, 1995) were not integral to the Spiritual Exercises, but more of a backdrop showing some of the sixteenth century boundaries of Catholic reform.
Why, then, a book of over three hundred closely written pages? An underlying drumbeat of A Church of Passion and Hope is disappointment, a sense that Jesuits must adhere themselves more closely to the teachings of the hierarchical church. Goulding only alludes to specific controversies but the footnotes reveal her concern with Jesuit views on such contested topics as the ordination of women and the rights of gays and lesbians. Only this agenda explains Goulding’s particular choice of topics, with separate chapters on four individuals who sustained loyalty to the magisterium—to use an anachronistic term—in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries [Mary Ward and Pierre Favre, S.J.] as well as in the twentieth century [Avery Dulles, S.J. and Henri de Lubac, S.J.]. Church authorities, Goulding concedes, treated Ward (trained by Jesuits) and de Lubac “badly,” but nonetheless they never wavered in their loyalty. The book concludes with an extended examination of the “Ignatian Ecclesial Disposition” in the context of the three most recent Popes—John Paul II, Benedict XVI and, of course, Francis, the first Jesuit Pope.
Goulding displays considerable erudition throughout the volume with a particular command of recent papal statements. But the gap between the volume’s formal purpose and the agenda of the author remains disconcerting. Goulding quotes statements by recent Jesuit leaders pledging adherence to the Church, for example, along with long statements to the same effect from Pope Benedict XVI—indeed Pope Benedict XVI’s theology may provide the master key to the particular version of authority and hierarchy favored by the author. That such statements are easy to find demonstrates to Goulding that individual “dissident” Jesuits are simply disobeying the leaders of their own religious order as well as the contemporary Popes.
An alternative explanation would be that statements of affinity between the Jesuits and the hierarchy are easy to find precisely because the issue is neuralgic. Retreat to the eighteenth century, what, precisely, would “thinking with the Church” at the time of the 1773 suppression of the Society by the papacy mean? Or, how, in retrospect, would we view “thinking with the Church” during the Chinese Rites controversy?
Or move to the twentieth century. De Lubac, certainly, remained both a loyal Jesuit and son of the Church. But his disenchantment with some dimensions of the Second Vatican Council and its aftermath—clearly shared by Goulding—should not disguise the real torment he endured in the 1950s when he was forbidden to teach, his books were pulled from the shelves, and his scholarship attacked by Roman authorities. John Courtney Murray, S.J.’s fall from favor in Roman circles in the 1950s, before his rehabilitation at the Second Vatican Council, makes the point equally well. In both instances a plausible argument could be made that the appropriate “ecclesial disposition” meant some probing of the boundaries of Catholic doctrine, not simply assent.
Dragging Pope Francis into her project to demonstrate unwavering papal consistency on the topic strains Goulding’s credibility. She has no difficulty identifying statements from Pope John Paul II or Benedict XVI urging unity around the papacy. With Francis—more notable for urging Jesuits to “row out into the deep” and work at the peripheries of culture and geography—the task is not so simple. And, in fact, Goulding more or less summarizes Francis’s thinking on the importance of mercy without connecting it to passages from Ignatius. She then, remarkably, concludes that all three Popes display “clear resonances with the ecclesial disposition of Ignatius.”
My own disposition to the volume under review is mixed. Significant learning is on display. But, so too, is a determination to fit the available historical evidence into a predetermined straitjacket; a project that tests the patience of the reader and casts doubt onto Goulding’s theological claims.
John T. McGreevy is Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame.
Add New Comment
Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.